Your Shapechanger, Fear

You know, dry pants do help to civilize one.

This morning I ran several errands with Miss B. along. She still isn’t too sure about car rides, but one of the errands was a 2+ mile walk in the rain, and she was glad to get back into the car after that and spent the rest of the errands snoozing.I did not think of myself as the type of high-energy person who could wear out an Australian shepherd, but apparently, I am. My vision of myself as a sedentary, ambitionless lump is taking rather a hard knock or two.

However, breaking up the errands with that walk meant that for about an hour and a half I was wandering around soaked from mid-thigh down. My feet were okay–wool socks and combat boots, so my toesies were damp but not cold–but my jeans were absolutely dripping. I’m sure I left a trail of moss behind. I have to say, peeling out of wet clothes and into dry is one of the most sensual, civilizing experiences I’ve had the pleasure of encountering. It’s right up there with hot tea, good Thai food, a glass of Sangiovese, and the ability to press a button and hear Beethoven.


Anyway, it’s Friday. I’ve grown away from doing Friday writing posts. It’s not that I ran out of things to say. Far, far from. There just hasn’t been a lot of bandwidth available, what with three books due this year, another few books in revision and proofs and copyedits, gah, plus the constant chaos of two kids, now with extra dog.

*time passes*

I wrote all that this morning, then left for afternoon errands. Now I’m here trying to pick up the train of thought that derailed when I looked at the clock and thought oh, dammit, almost late! It was very White Rabbit of me. In any case, I have limited time now before the set of evening tasks rises up to gnaw at my ankles and demand my attention, so let’s get on with it.

To quote Stephen King: Let’s talk, you and I. Let’s talk about fear.

One of my afternoon errands was lunch with my darling Princess, who is on the honor roll at her school. Afterward, I walked her to her English class, and got roped into a question-and-answer session. I didn’t kick very hard–I love those kids, they’re so bright and energetic. Every class visit, I notice something. At least one (but usually several) kids ask me the same question many adults ask me, over and over again.

How do you get over the fear?

Fear is a shapechanger. What if nobody likes it? What if I have no talent? What if I’m rejected? What if everyone laughs at me? What if I never finish? What if I finish and I never write anything else? What if I’m a freak passing for human and this shows everyone my secret, and they hate me because I’m alien? (Okay, maybe this one is just me.) What if I never finish anything? What if I’m a crappy writer? What if I’m a horrible human being who doesn’t deserve to live, let alone write? What if the sun goes out and I’m responsible? AAAAAAAAAAGH! *Insert your own particular bugaboo here.*

This is the fear that fuels paralysis. Sometimes one calls this paralysis writer’s block. Look, “writer’s block” does not exist. But fear most definitely does. The fear will take a million shapes, like the demon hurling scary shit at Buddha under the Bodhi tree. Its purpose is to shake you. I am going to tell you a couple things about fear, and then I’ll leave you to it.

* Fear as the speed of light. Einstein turned physics on its head by saying, “Fine, let’s treat the speed of light as a constant, then we’ll get some shit done.” Quitting writing will not stop the fear; it will simply take different shapes and return in other areas of your life. Accept that while you’re alive, you’re going to be afraid of shit. It’s the human condition. Courage does not lie in stupid-ass foolhardiness, it lies in feeling the fear and forging ahead anyway, in however-tiny increments. Don’t think that the fear is a reason to quit. Instead, accept it as a constant, plug it into the equation so you can plan around it, and get some shit done.

* Sometimes, you aren’t afraid, just tired. Or lazy. Sometimes, if you look very closely at what you’re feeling, it’s not fear. You just don’t wanna. Well. If you honestly, really don’t wanna, then don’t. Go do something you do wanna, be a plumber or an opera singer or a high-priced plate whisperer, whatever. There is enough fear in everyone’s life, don’t add more to your burdens by calling exhaustion or laziness something they’re not. Human beings are already tottering under a load of (sometimes very real and very reasonable) fear; why would you want to pick up more?

* The place where you’re weakest is your strength. That fear you feel when you sit down to write, guess what? Someone else, probably several someones, feels it too. That fear is an invaluable gift. It shows you exactly what your reader will nod their head at while reading. Your reader will recognize your honest fear. It is a hook that will drag the reader into your story, because your reader knows what it’s like.

I had such a difficult time in ballet class; I was gawky, self-conscious, clumsy, terrified. One day, Madame called us all together, fixed us with her eagle eye, and said something like this: “Girls, while you are at barre, you are thinking everyone is looking at you. They are not. Every girl is busy being afraid you are looking at her. Nobody is watching you. Sometimes, even I am not watching, for there are twelve of you and only the one of me. Stop being silly, eh?”

This was a revelation. (Thanks, Madame. you kicked my ass, but I loved it.) The older I get, the more I find out that everyone around me is just winging it, the same way I am. The things I’m afraid of–my loved ones being hurt, being lonely when I get old, heights, confined spaces, zombie apocalypses–are common human fears. I can describe them and most people will nod because they know exactly what I’m talking about. They’ve felt it too. That moment of sympathy is part of what it means to be human, and it is pure goddamn gold when you’re looking to pull a reader into your world and tell them this amazing story you love.

Just in case you think you’re the only one, let me tell you: You’re not. I am terrified too. Every time I finish a book, I am terrified nobody will like it. While I’m writing books I’ve been contracted for I’m terrified they will suck and the publisher will want the advance back and my career will end. Every time I write a short story I’m afraid of the editor sending it back with a note like “OHAI THIS IS TRASH, U R REJECTED, SEE YOU LATER.” There is at least one other person on God’s green earth that is just as afraid as you are, and that person is me. Take some comfort in that.

I’ve got the other end of this line, kid, and as long as you hold on, I’m going to as well. Despite the storm of fear, this rope–the sympathy we can feel for fear we know we share, the transformation of the world through our art–can hold us both. I promise.

Now. Put your chin up and your shoulders back. Spit in fear’s eye. Get out there and kick some ass.

Over and out.

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